I rarely reread books, even ones I’d list among my favorites. Primarily this is because most books don’t seem to hold up time after time. I don’t blame the books, as it’s me who has changed between readings, perhaps even because of them.
Some books require the right intellect, state of mind, or current events to appear brilliantly relevant. I still appreciate Robert Heinlein, but now that I’m a grown-ass man, his writing is often weak, his ideas often unchallenged, and his fancies sometimes too far removed from the realities of modern science. Catcher in the Rye may resonate as a well-written novel of philosophical import to an angry teen, but as an adult it comes across as well-written whiny drivel. And while Chicken Soup for the Soul may be exactly what I need as an ill-tempered and depressed youth on a rainy weekend after being dumped, it’s self-serving saccharine crap the rest of the time, by which I mean nearly all the time.
I can’t reread Narnia without blatant religious parallels eliciting eye-rolling and huffing. I can’t reread classic kids books without anger at the way they’ve marred the darkness of the original Grimm‘s with happy endings and PC sentiment. I can’t flip through classic Dickens without being annoyed at the archaic language or Fleming‘s Bond series without scoffing at the stupidity of social norms. Even excellent books like the Game of Thrones series loses its luster because the shock value is lost in the knowing. And modern forays into new territory like those from David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Safran Foer, no matter how well-written, often suffer for their attempts at novelty.
These days, it seems more likely that a new novel will either follow tropes and devices well-worn or will rewrite a classic with modern trappings than it does that the author actually has an original idea. Which isn’t to say that a rehashed idea or plot can’t still be brilliantly executed and wonderfully written. But if I’m constantly barraged with the same stories and characters changed with slight differences what’s to keep me reading new books or rereading the old ones?